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George Rowntree

The Reminiscences of George Rowntree
1855 -1940

written during the winter of 1935-36



The stand that friends took that War is wrong led to many heart searchings. Naturally, the one that interested me most was my son's decision to join the army, whilst his cousin , Maurice L. Rowntree, took the extreme position that, war being wrong, he would have nothing to do witl1 it, cost him what it might: both acted according to their consciences. Maurice paid the penalty of two years in prison. Malcolm joined the ranks of the Wireless Section of the Royal Engineers in April 1917, and subsequently obtained a commission and saw service in France during 1918 with the Fourth Army on the Somme and near the Belgian frontier. A Field Service card sent to Elizabeth at 11 o'clock on the 11th of 11th month 1918 told us all that he was amongst the fortunate ones who came through safely.

Apart from my visit to Maurice whilst in prison, my only experience of the inside of a prison was when I went to visit Hull Gaol on behalf of the Scarborough Magistrates. I record it to show how the idea of punishment is fear or revenge. The prison cells are 13 feet long, 7 feet wide and 9 feet high. The floor usually is stone. All windows are barred and at such a height from the floor that one cannot see out, and standing on the stool is forbidden. The bed consists of three planks fastened together; after the first fortnight, a mattress, sheets and blankets are provided. The work varies from mending post office sacks to picking up scraps that have fallen in the prison yards. The absence of any attempt to reform the prisoner was obvious. Solitary confinement is a penalty for breaking prison regulations; for instance, when a group of Christmas singers sang "Christians awake" , outside the prison walls, Maurice and others joined in; "could not help it," they said, so they were put in solitary confinement with a bread and water diet for a week.

The mental effect can only be realised by being experienced. An official visit, such as I paid, was most perfunctory. The only possible use was on my asking to be admitted. The following is what took place :

G.R. to the Porter: I have come to see the Governor. Is he in?

Porter to G.R. : Will you go in that room ?

G.R. to Porter, after waiting 20 minutes: Is the Governor in now?

Porter to G.R. : I'll go and see. What name?

G.R. to Porter: One of the Visiting Justices from Scarborough.

Porter: Oh ! Why did you not tell me that before ?

G.R. : That's sufficient ! I came to see how the gaol is run. I was promptly admitted to the Governor's room; then shown round so many of the wards by two warders. The first one opened the door , asking, "Any complaints ?" Prisoners, in all cases but one, answered "No." , Second warder closes the door, and so we go round. ( My visit was during the war, and I believe many improvements have been made whereby there is some attempt to humanise the lives of the prisoners.)

On the wall of the cells a card of prison regulations hangs, telling on the back "things which a Christian ought to know," including one's duty "to submit oneself to one's betters, pastors, teachers, &c." , This reminds me of an old report book about 1860, in the old Scarborough Prison, when entries were made, amongst other things, of "books lent" to the prisoners. One was a loan to two German prisoners of an English Bible and a Hebrew Calendar; another, two numbers of "The Sunday at Home!" given by Rev. Robert Balgarnie.

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